The Menehune are described as superb craftspeople. They built temples (heiau), fishponds, roads, canoes, and houses. Some of these structures that Hawaiian folklore attributed to the Menehune still exist. They are said to have lived in Hawaiʻi before settlers arrived from Polynesia many centuries ago. Their favorite food is the maiʻa (banana), and they also like fish. Legend has it that the Menehune will only appear during night hours, in order to build masterpieces. But if they fail to complete their work in the length of the night, they will leave it unoccupied. No one but their children and humans connected to them are able to see the Menehune.
In Martha Warren Beckwith's Hawaiian Mythology, there are references to several other forest dwelling races: the Nawao, who were large-sized wild hunters descended from Lua-nuʻu, the mu people, and the wa people.
Some early scholars hypothesized that there was a first settlement of Hawaiʻi, by settlers from the Marquesas Islands, and a second, from Tahiti. The Tahitian settlers oppressed the "commoners", the manahune in the Tahitian language, who fled to the mountains and were called Menahune. Proponents of this hypothesis point to an 1820 census of Kauaʻi by Kaumualiʻi, the ruling aliʻi aimoku of the island, which listed 65 people as menehune.
Folklorist Katharine Luomala believes that the legends of the Menehune are a post-European contact mythology created by adaptation of the term manahune (which by the time of the colonization of the Hawaiian Islands by Europeans had acquired a meaning of "lowly people" or "low social status" and not diminutive in stature) to European legends of brownies. It is claimed that "Menehune" are not mentioned in pre-contact mythology, although this is unproven since it was clearly an oral mythology; the legendary "overnight" creation of the Alekoko fishpond, for example, finds its equivalent in the legend about the creation of a corresponding structure on Oʻahu, which was supposedly indeed completed in a single day — not by menehune but, as a show of power, by a local aliʻi who commanded every one of his subjects appear at the construction site and assist in building.
Structures attributed to the Menehune
- Menehune Fishpond wall at Niumalu, Kauaʻi
- Kīkīaola ditch at Waimea, Kauaʻi
- Necker Island structures
- Pa o ka menehune, breakwater at Kahaluʻu Bay.
- Ulupo Heiau at Kailua, Oahu
- In the experimental 1970s Aloha network developed at the University of Hawaii, the packet controllers were called Menehune, a pun on the equivalent IMP (Interface Message Processor) in the early ARPAnet. The modern Ethernet was based on the carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) methodology pioneered by ALOHAnet.
- The Menehune is the school mascot of Waimea High School on Kaua'i and Makakilo Elementary School, Maunawili Elementary School, Moanalua High School and Mililani Waena Elementary School on O'ahu.
- United Airlines used the Menehune in brand advertising for their service to Hawaii in the 1970s through the 1980s. The figurines and travel agency displays are now collectors' items.
- Carl Barks wrote a story featuring Scrooge McDuck helped by Menehunes, "The Menehune Mystery".
- The Menehune play a key role in the Rocket Power TV movie, Island of the Menehune.
- The menehune are key figures in the children’s story, “My Sister Sif”, written by acclaimed Australian author, Ruth Park.
- The Forerunner Saga, set in the Halo universe, identifies Menehune as members of the human subspecies Homo floresiensis settled on Hawaii following activation of the Halo Array 100,000 years ago. The floresiensis of this setting feature characteristics inspired by Menehune, such as shyness towards humans and a love for building clever structures.
- Patupaiarehe, similar supernatural beings in Māori mythology
- Taotao Mona, similar supernatural beings in the Marianas
- Anito, similar supernatural beings in the Philippines
- Homo floresiensis, a presumed extinct species of very small bipedal tool bearers in the genus Homo found in South East Asia
- Huldufólk, elves in Icelandic tradition.
- Little people (mythology)
- Paupueo, whose owls chase away the Menehune
- Leprechaun, Irish imp or fairy
- Vazimba, similar belief in Madagascar.
- Thrum, Thos (1907). Hawaiian Folk Tales. A. C. McClurg & Company. p. 34. A.C. McClurg.
- Beckwith 1970, pp. 321-323
- Joesting 1987, pp. 20-22
- Luomala 1951
- Nordhoff 1874
- B. Jean Martin (September 29, 1971). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Menehune Fishpond / Alekoko Fishpond". National Park Service.
- "Hoʻihoʻi Kulana Wahi pana - Restoring Sacred Places" (PDF). brochure published by Kamehameha Investment Corporation. 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
- "United Airlines Menehune". Advertisingiconmuseum.org. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
- Jón Árnason; George E. J. Powell; Eiríkur Magnússon (1866). "Introductory Essay". Icelandic Legends, Volume 2. London: Richard Bentley. pp. xlii–lvi. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
- Beckwith, Martha (1970). Hawaiian Mythology. University of Hawaii Press. www.sacredtexts.com
- Joesting, Edward (1987) . Kauaʻi, The Separate Kingdom. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaiʻi Press and Kauaʻi Museum Association. ISBN 0-8248-1162-3.
- Luomala, Katharine (1951): "The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania". Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin Vol. 203; Kraus Reprint, Millwood, N.Y., 1986
- Nordhoff, Charles (1874): Northern California, Oregon and the Sandwich Islands, Chapter V, p. 80: "The Hawaiian at Home: Manners and Customs". Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle, London; available free online at 
- Nordyke, Eleanor C. (1989). The Peopling of Hawaiʻi. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1191-7.
- Schmitt, Robert C., "Early Hawaiian Statistics," The American Statistician, Vol. 35, No. 1, pages 1–3, February, 1981;  (Retrieved on 2008-02-16)